Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 16, 2005 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It Bæfers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

____________________ Carolyn is running a few minutes late, but she'll be here, so stay tuned. -- Liz


Carolyn Hax: Hi guys. Sorry for the delay.


Atlantic City, N.J.: Submitting early ... I have been married for about two years to a man who is a little too honest at times. He told me that his brother (in confidence) tried to convince him not to continue to date me, not to move in with me, and then not to marry me, all the way up to the point where he kept asking him "are you sure about this?" as they were waiting for me to walk down the aisle! To some, it might seem like brotherly concern but my feelings are hurt and I can't seem to get over it. I don't know what I could have done to make his brother so anti-me. I never really liked him before all this (he is pompous and self-centered), but I was always polite to him. I hate family gatherings because of him, so I really need to get over it. Help!

Carolyn Hax: This is high on the easier-said-than-done scale, but it sounds to me like having this guy as your enemy is a compliment.

And if that's too extreme an interpretation, you can still say to yourself quite credibly that you and the brother are very, very different people, who at best aren't going to warm to each other naturally. When he was arguing against you, he was probably seeing you though his eyes, not his brother's (ie, the self-centered vibe you get from him). The persistence falls under the same interpretation--he wanted a different sister-in-law for himself, who better suited his tastes. This happens ALL the time, with self-centered people and non-. All you can do is keep reminding yourself that you wouldn't have chosen him, either, and shrug him off.


Arlington, Va.: About the crappy relationships... is it possible to know it's crappy and end it with out really figuring out the reason you started the crapy relationship? Or is this how the cycle of always seeming to be in bad relationships starts?

Carolyn Hax: Certainly you can let a crappy relationship or two go by without explanation, as long as you're getting yourself out before it becomes a huge life-sucking exercise in indecisiveness. But if the only relationships you find yourself in are crappy ones, then you're in a cycle that I don't think you can end without identifying the source. Unless, I suppose, you luck into the right person, but I think you still need to be healthy enough to recognize that something is (finally) healthy.


Los Angeles, Calif.: I noticed that Dan Savage mentioned you in his column this week. I wonder- is there some sorta Advice Columnists Guild of America, complete with annual gala schmoozefest? Have you met Dan Savage at said event? Is he as ricockulously cool as he is in print? Thank you.

Carolyn Hax: I pity the caterer at that gala.

I've met Dan once, at an editors' conference where we were on a panle together, and he is funny as s---. There's also the occasional flurry of emails when one of us needs something advice-ish.


Concerned, D.C.: My best friend fell for an idiot. They dated briefly and it ended, because he is an idiot. Now my friend is in turmoil over this idiot and I can't understand why? He is, as I have mentioned, an idiot. Any tips on helping move her along in the recovering process?

Carolyn Hax: Whatever you do, don't be the first to use the I-word. And if she ever opens the door by using it herself, don't use it then, either. What you can do next time she airs her turmoil, if you're quick on your feet, is lead her to conclude he's an idiot with carefully worded questions--like, oh, I don't know (being not quick on my feet ...), were you happy with the way he treated you, did you hear warning bells that you subsequently tuned out, did you like who you were with this guy. Stuff like that.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Carolyn, I wanted to ask a question about about last Wednesday's column (Sept. 7), but I wasn't here last week; I hope you will indulge me now. You wrote that it is "clear that a marriage is more important than a brother."

Do you really believe that? I don't actually have siblings or a marriage, but I don't think I could be comfortable prioritizing a fiance(e) over a brother or sister with whom I had been partnered from the beginning of life. The prior commitment takes precedence, don't you think?

That's not to say that I agree with the brother in question, the circumstances of who is right and wrong may alter things...

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the chance to elaborate. I gave this a huge amount of thought, and I believe in what I wrote. I also managed somehow--probably through too many rewritings, which is what I often do when I put huge amounts of thought into things--to muddy what I was saying by the misuse of "clear." What I meant to establish as clear is that a brother is more important than a wedding. I didn't mean to extend the certainty to the much grayer issue of marriage vs. sibling.

Even though, like I said, I believe that, too. When you get married (using marriage here to represent all unions intended to be for life), you obviously keep your family and friends, too, but the focus of your daily life, your greatest energy and your future goals has to be your spouse. Or else you're not really in the marriage. That means, when the needs of a sibling clash squarely with the needs of a spouse, and neither party is being evil, the spouse's needs prevail. They have to. That's what the vows are about.

Obviously (and here's where the gray comes in) if the marriage ends in divorce, you've got no spouse and you still have your siblings. But if you're prioritizing your siblings with an eye to the fact that your marriage could end one day, then your marriage is probably going to end sooner than you think.

Hope that clears it up.


Dadsville, Va.: Hi -- just found out I'm going to be a dad. Could use a little encouragement from you and the peanuts on how while this will be a life altering experience, I'm not going to completely lose touch with my old freer self. And that I'll still have time to do "me" things.

Breathing in...

Breathing out...

Carolyn Hax: Slowly, you don't want to hyperventilate.

You will have very little time for "me" things early on. Get used to that idea now. You will need to -make- some "me" time--meaning, block it out on the calendar, plan for it, hire someone to cover it, defend it against duty encroachment--and you will need to take great care to make sure your "me" time doesn't elbow aside mommy's "me" time or your also-absolutely-essential couple time--but we;re talking a once-a-week thing at best here, unless you have a team of grannies or nannies. And it's to recharge you, not to give you your old life back.

At first. In time, you will slowly regain freedom and flexibility. The key is to keep your expectations low and let yourself be pleasantly surprised.

Part of that pleasant surprise, I hope, will be how much you love love love your kid. That's what makes a sacrifice that seems scary now feel automatic and (mostly) ungrudging when you get there.

Really. It's amazing. I swear.


re: marriage vs. siblings: Also, your marriage is something you've chosen to enter into with a person you've chosen to spend your life with. Your siblings are random people you're thrown together with due to circumstances completely beyond your control.

Obviously, we have greater responsibility to the commitment we've chosen to make rather than the one we have no say in.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin'. Thanks.


Out West: Do you think there is truly a "I'm just not ready for a relationship with anyone answer" or is it really a "just not ready for one with you". A guy I really like started pursing a relationship with me, only to back off in the first couple of weeks because as he says, he really likes me but isn't ready for another committment (just got out of a long term relationship) and he thinks if we date, he is going to like me too much to not be in a relationship. Off course that means I'm not going to wait (sucks to be me -- I really liked him). But what I really think is if he had found a girl he wasn't willing to lose, he would totally change his mind, it's just that he is willing to lose me. Am I wrong here?

Carolyn Hax: Probably not. Or, probably. You know what? It doesn't matter. He just isn't the guy. Oh well. I'm sorry.


Washington, D.C.: What if the reason I'm in the crappy relationship is because I loved the guy before we started dating, but the reason it's crappy is because he's a crappy boyfriend (not particularly emotional or understanding of my emotions/needs)? Am I basically too afraid of being single to realize that we really were better as friends?

Carolyn Hax: But you already realize it. You're just hoping one day he'll wake up, realize how amazing you are and start treating you the way you want him to. No one can blame you for that. But I think you will start to blame yourself if you hang onto this hope beyond the point where the flashing purple GIVE UP signs start keeping you awake at night.


Re: Crappy Relationship (Washington, D.C.): Carolyn, I can't decide if I am in a crappy relationship or a crappy non-relationship.

Maybe you could date this guy for awhile and tell me what you think. Don't worry, you wouldn't have to do very much. He's leaving on business (international) for six weeks only to return in time to take a three week vacation to another far-away place. Oh, and he has this fun habit of making "tentative" plans and then not calling to cancel until hours after we were supposed to get together. Plus, he confided in me once that having sex once a month would be fine with him.

P.S. We're both professionals in our 20s.

Fun, no? In exchange for your generosity, I'll watch the twins for one night. I'm a great babysitter.

Carolyn Hax: Plus, you're free for the next nine weeks, every night but one.

But if it's okay with you, I'd rather be the chair umpire on this one. Tempting as your offer may be.


Fairfax, Va.: I laughed out loud when I read today's first letter, because my sister-in-law could have written it. Good answer from you, because if she thinks that her actions are going to get her respect, she's dead wrong. My mom has gone to a lot of effort to hide all traces of my brother's life before marriage (he's past 30, so it isn't like this was the first girl he ever dated) and to protect SIL's delicate feelings, but mostly the overreacting has gotten SIL plenty of eye rolling and "whatevers" from the rest of the family. Respect? Not a chance.

Carolyn Hax: I got a great letter in response to that answer ... let me dig it up and I'll post it. (Teaser: It's from her soul mate.)


Carolyn Hax: This'll take a minute, so how bout a sing-along--the big number around here right now is, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Carry on.


Carolyn Hax: "Boy I don't know where you are coming from, your answer reflects an immature mind, and you are giving advice? Being a guy this is my viewpoint. Rather than leaving the room, I would have shoved off with my mate, especially since he agreed. Your column is now on our no read list."

Okey dokey.


re: not ready to be in a relationship: The example given by Out West doesn't quite add up this way, but I think it is quite possible to just not be ready for a relationship. For example, if you're still in love with the person who left you and you know you'd just fall into their arms if they came back, you might not want to get involved in a romantic relationship with someone you like and respect until you're certain that you wouldn't drop them if the one who left you came back.

Carolyn Hax: That's a good example, thanks. There are others, too, like feeling too close to the breakup to trust your own judgment. Or you just got through making a promise to yourself that you'd use this new freedom to start following through on X project or Y dream that you've put off pursuing.


Semi-Fluff He, re: Hey Carolyn - parenting opinion sought:

Do you swear in front of your kids? I mean like your "funny as s---" comment above. Just wondering.

I do, though I don't make a point of doing it to be difficult or anything.

Carolyn Hax: We've replaced all* pet profanities with "shneesh."** It was bumpy at first, but we started when they were too small to parrot us so we had time for it to become habit. It was a lot easier than altering our basic speech patterns, which have a fair*** number of insert-profanity-here beats. Like the phrase, "Funny as ----."

* We don't bat 1.000, but closer than we had any right to hope.

** What Percy used to say when he was learning to talk.

** A lot.

Okay, that's it for cutesy kid *%^($ today, I promise.


Washington, D.C.: What do you think about a guy who denies that his exes even exist? When one of his relationship ends, he can't even stand to hear the name of that girl. I once mentioned the name of a girl he dated over a year ago and he got mad at me for mentioning her name.

Carolyn Hax: This is why EXIT signs are illuminated and red.


New York, N.Y.: Online only please!

Carolyn and peanuts... I'm pretty sure my boyfriend is going to propose to me soon -- and this is a problem. I love him very much and we have so much in common, but, and it is a big but, the sex is less than great, mainly because he, um doesn't measure up. I can't imagine marrying someone who can't meet all my needs. How do I break up with him and not mention why? He is already self-conscious about it -- and if I say it is the reason I can't marry him, I would worry about him having to spend a decade in therapy. Because we have some much in common, we're growing apart or we are different people wouldn't really fly.

Carolyn Hax: 1. Please break up now, since an imminent proposal (I trust your judgment here) means you're leading him to believe there's a future when there isn't one.

2. The truth in less-painful form is that you feel more like great old friends than boyfriend-girlfriend, and you feel there's more out there, and even if you're wrong you have to try--or else wonder the rest of your life.

And to the guy who's reading this and gets dumped exactly this way in the next week: It's probably just a coincidence. Really. Thousands and thousands of people reading this.


Thanksgiving: I know it's too early to be thinking about this, but what do you do when you just want to spend a nice quiet day at home on Thanksgiving with your spouse -- with no other family obligations? We love our families but just don't feel like doing all that running around to his parents/my parents house to please everyone else. It's just too stressful. And don't suggest I have them all over to our house to avoid the running. Tried that. disaster. His family = uptight and conservative. My family = loud, liberal, pot smokers.

Carolyn Hax: Didn't we hear from you last fall?

"We've decided to spend a quiet Thanksgiving at home this year, just us." Make it pro-you and not anti-them, even if the response you get forces you to say to them explicitly, "This is pro-us, not anti-family." Though the true Thanksgiving bird is anyone who guilt-trips you for making this decision.


Marriage vs. siblings: Carolyn,

This is a testament about why family ties are not as strong in the US as they are in foreign countries. Just because you are born into a family and have no choice in the matter shouldn't mean that you forsake loyalty, blood ties and those people who have been there for you from the beginning because you got married.

I'm not trying to sound bitter, but as a single person, my family and friends matter a lot to me and I invest a lot of energy and time into these special relationships. But according to your logic, all that turns into bubcuss once any of us gets married. Why should the bond of marriage be more important than any other special bond? bobcuss?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, I'm completely distracted now.

What was I going to say.

Oh, I was going to steer you back to the "you obviously keep your family and friends, too," since I type these things because I actually mean them, and not just to provide speed bumps on the road to Huffyburg.

And some relationships have to be more important than others when you live a life that forces you to make difficult choices, and set priorities, and upset one person in order to please another (yourself included in both sets of people). If anyone out there has found a way to avoid these things, then please do share with the rest of us.


Carolyn Hax: As for our way vs. that in other countries, our geographic sprawl and economic structure have imposed on us cultural choices that don't necessarily make us family-forsaking monsters.


Advice to Dadsville: Rather than bring this up with a columnist and a bunch of strangers, he'd be better off discussing this concern with that lady who just moved to "Momsville." She's got the same conerns and they need to be open and honest about it.

Carolyn Hax: True, I suppose. But I also think there's something to be said for exploring the feelings a bit beforehand, and collecting a few other viewpoints, so you don't come home and dump, "I'm not sure I can hadle this," on the lap of someone so pregnant she no longer has a lap.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding me-time for new parents: What do you do when your spouse doesn't believe in me-time, at ALL? Our child is TWO and my husband and I have yet to have an evening out by ourselves. I've taken a very few blocks of a few hours of me-time (we're talking half a dozen in two years), always offering (pretty much insisting) that my husband take an equal or greater amount of time, but he never has. He says he doesn't need me-time, and that I shouldn't have decided to have a kid if I wanted any. I've pretty much resigned myself to not having any personal time or adults-only/couples time, but I really think that just a few hours once a MONTH would keep stress at bay and help me feel recharged. When I've pressed the issue, he's told me that if I'm going to be an absentee parent, he might as well just divorce me and get full custody and have me pay child support (this is for suggesting a once-a-month break). I definitely don't want a divorce, and we don't have any other problems in our marriage aside from this issue. Should I just let it go?

Carolyn Hax: Oh my goodness no. Wow. I have a hard time believing everything else is hunky-dory with someone who's so controlling and hostile.

I'm sorry, I fear this post is going to be preceded by a longer-than-usual gap of dead air, because I am speechless.

I would say that an hour or two of "me" time, on a weekly basis, makes people -better- parents, not absentee ones, because it helps clear the mind--does he not believe in sleep at the end of the day? This is merely the emotional equivalent. And, it helps kids adjust to having other people in their lives ... but letting that stand as my answer would dignify his absolutely horrifying words to you.

Any chance he's a couple beans short of a soup?

That would put a nicer, if obviously difficult, face on it.

Anyway. Must regain powers of speech. I urge you to find a way, somehow, to talk to a good marriage and family therapist--go alone to begin with, so you can talk freely about what your husband says to you in response to your request for time off. Maybe you can take your 2-year-old and bring along a family member or good friend to babysit for the hour? I hate the subterfuge but I think it's a lesser evil.


Re: New York: Unless New York has managed to hide all indications that she is dissatisfied with her sex life from her boyfriend, I think he'll figure it out. And he'll ask. And if he does, I think she should answer more or less truthfully. She could place the emphasis on the fact that she just wouldn't be happy with a bad sex life for the next 40 years, instead of on his...inadequacies. But if she denies it I think it'd just make it worse. The only thing worse than being dumped is being dumped by someone who's obviously lying.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks. I also think she can say "WE don't work well physically," because that's probably a lot more accurate anyway than, "You're inadequate." He could be great for someone else. This is why human variety is so unassailably great, even when it can make for a really miserable afternoon of bathing-suit shopping.


Bubkes: I think it's crap that you mocked someone for misspelling the word bubkes. I'm speaking to both of you... Bob Cuss... is that you?

Carolyn Hax: Ar ar.

Oh come on. You know we leave spelling and grammar alone here. That was just a particularly funny misspelling.


Absentee Parent?!: I have a hard time believing that the writer has no other problems in the marriage other than this -- but, then again, this is so huge maybe it obscures all the others. Really, so scary, that someone would (a) believe that a few hours off a month constitutes absentee parenting, and (b) would threaten to divoce/seek full custody over a few hours a month -- don't know much about the D.C. courts, but am pretty sure that no court would consider that an unreasonable request/grounds for granting sole custody to him -- just to put her mind at rest on that point. In addition to a therapist, might want to talk to a lawyer friend up there -- not for divorce advice, but just so she knows how empty that threat is/can stand firm on her desire for some time off. Jeez.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I just can't get my mind around the fact that someone would just toss off a threat like that, for any reason.

I'm posting this for the good information in it, but also to show that I;m not the only one saying this is an intolerable line for the husband to be drawing.


re: Me-Time: We've been married 23 years and rarely took any "me time" outside the house. What happened to that time between putting the kids to bed and going to bed yourself? Isn't that "me time" enough?

Carolyn Hax: If it is for you, then I'm not going to argue otherwise. But to speak only for myself, the change of scenery of a restaurant or a friend's house or a concert has proven restorative beyond measure to this home-based writer and zookeeper. I like the world. I miss it. And 30 minutes into it, I miss the zoo.


New York: I've been married for a year and a half. The relationship has been up and down. We moved to a place where we had no friends and I ended up with a lousy job and have been fairly unhappy since.

I just moved back to NYC to start a new job while wife is back home until she finds one here. I was a bachelor here for about five years until I met my wife and enjoyed myself. Now that I'm back and on my own and in a more exciting place, I'm starting to think that I should be a bachelor again. Everything just seemed so much simpler and easy then and I'm still young enough to do it again. We're also close to trying to have kids which I thought I was excited about until I came back here.

I just feel like if I'm going to make a change I need to do it now...I'm really starting to freak out that I'm even having these thoughts. Does that mean there's something wrong with my marriage or I'm just reacting like any other normal man whos afraid of getting old and leaving his youth behind? advice? thanks

Carolyn Hax: I think you should talk about this with your wife. And I advise this knowing the truth could hurt her terribly. But the alternatives include 1. her feeling the same way but not knowing how to raise the issue with you, which could make this the best conversation of your lives--or 2. your never saying how you feel and her sensing, miserably, that you're there without really being -there-, which could make this the worst non-conversation of your lives.

Of course, there's also the possibility that this is just a blip, a normal "ahhhh" moment that many feel in the happiest marriages when they're ALONE for once, and that telling her would take the light out of your marriage--so before you launch into The Conversation, scour your soul for any hunches, insights, truths you're not telling yourself. It could be as simple as waiting till you spend time with her next, and seeing how you react to that.


Re: me-time: I hate to say it, but I agree with Washington, D.C.'s husband. Actually, I don't hate to say it. I feel the same way he does.

You don't raise a child when you feel up for it, or when it's convenient to you. If the parent(s) are unwilling to make that 24/7 commitment, the time to think about that is before having sex. "Me" disappears when "me" has to take care of raising a child 24/7. You are no longer "me," you are "the child's parent." Note that "the child" comes first.

Before you or any of the readers ask, no, I don't have children. Because of job commitments, I'm unable to commit to children, and I would be absolutely unwilling to foist them off for somebody else to raise. That's what's wrong with so many children today.

Carolyn Hax: THANK YOU for not having children. When two hours a week of time away hits your eyes as "foist[ing] them off for somebody else to raise," then your eyes are seeing parenthood through a deeply distorting lens.

I refuse to have my commitment to my children questioned because I need to go to the dentist or get a haircut. Not that those are even close to the only times my kids are in someone else's care, but they're two normal reasons the 24/7 viewpoint is a fall-off-your-chair laugher. Do I stop being a parent when I'm apart from my kids? Of course not. Which is why I choose the places I go and the people who care for them as carefully as I've made any decision in my life. A parent is a parent 24/7, but to spend 24/7 withholding kids from the world--and not -trusting- the world to help take care of them--is to do a grave disservice to the kids.


Me-time for spouses: My husband and I don't have kids, but I've been struggling with the me-time issue anyway. He thinks that we should only need each other. He doesn't have, or want, any friends that he sees socially. And he doesn't have any interests that he pursues without me (other than his work). I've got my work and exercising as "me" things, and one girl friend that I see about once a week. Other than that, it's all "us" all the time. I think I would be happier if I could pursue some other interests, but whenever I bring it up he gets very depressed and asks me why he isn't "enough" for me, since I am "enough" for him. Any ideas on how to get through to him (ps, he is opposed to therapy of any kind).

Carolyn Hax: Of course he is, because he knows he's wrong. This is a deeply insecure man. He is clinging to you the only way he knows how, by keeping you from the whole world. He doesn't trust you to see the rest of the world and still want to be with him. (There is a very fine line between this attitude and abuse (

Do not yield to such unhealthy demands. Handle them sensitively, because this is your husband after all, but do not yield. Go to counseling and explain that you're going with or without him; gently insist on taking the time you need; reassure him that you love him without ladling it on just to get out the door. "I love you, and I'm seeing my friend because I like my friend, and because our love is not so fragile that we can't survive missing each other occasionally." Be careful, too. If you get scared, trust it.

And note to anyone who is in the early stages of a relationship like this: This kind of all-we-need-is-each-other BS is not romantic, it's desperate. Please don't rationalize away your reservations about it.


Re: NY Husband: Yikes! That one is scaring me because it could be my husband!

Probably not but I'm ambivelent about the separation; sometimes I am happy about the extra time and freedom and other times I miss him terribly. I'd definitely want to know if he was feeling how he is BUT I'd definitely want him to wait it out a bit because feelings change.

He was miserable WHERE he was so that factors into it a great deal. (Same with my husband -- eerie...)

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, what a great look at the other side.


Siblings v. Marriage: I don't understand why this is actually an issue for anyone. Wouldn't it be weird if mom and dad picked their sibling over each other? That's exactly what it is. Instead of thinking about it from the vantange point of the sibling, note how your parents probably focused on each other and you rather than the family they were born into.

p.s. I did think that single person sounded bitter by the way.

p.p.s. I do think the US is less natal family oriented than other societies but I don't this is the greatest example and that our culture is necessarily a bad thing.

Carolyn Hax: Another great post, didn't see it till now. Perfect framing of the argument, to use mom and dad. Thanks.


The controlling father in your last post: ...could have been my Dad growing up.

she owes it to her kid to do something, anything. Or her kids will grow up very anti-marriage and avoid commitment like the plague.

-- signed, a daughter who saw it all.

Carolyn Hax: Last word, thanks, since I also just saw the clock. Whooie got meself all caught up today. Thanks, guys, and type to you next week. Same bat time, same bat angst ...


kids need me time, too: One really good thing to remember is that child development shows that children (especially when they start to hit toddlerhood) actually need to be away from parents for some amounts of time to develop appropriate senses of self and to get over separation anxiety. Your children will be part of the whole world, not just your world.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you thank you for the reinforcement.


Bob Cuss here: Is there a more inmature response than storming out of a room? Whether you say something beforehand or not, isn't the ADULT thing to always discuss your problem rationally and give the offender an opportunity to respond?

Carolyn Hax: I think the more immature thing would be to stop to moon everyone as you storm out. Not to be contrary or anything.


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